Thursday’s Rugby news reports on the structure of Australian rugby in the future, as the Shute Shield ramps up heading into finals, while the Western Force announce a marquee signing, and South Africa looks to get out of Super Rugby.
A second edition of an all-Australian Super Rugby competition in 2021 looks to be on the cards as the future of Super Rugby continues to be shrouded in a Covid-cloud, with tensions between SANZAAR partners at an all-time high.
Despite the potential for a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand, it is increasingly likely that the two nations will settle for domestic competitions in the short-term. There has been scope for a Champions Cup-style playoffs between the top sides of each respective competition, with the possible inclusion of a Pasifika or a Japanese team.
Rugby Australia still have not locked in a TV deal in for 2021. Hamish McLennan told Sky Sports NZ’s The Breakdown that Rugby Australia had to “get focused on building a new competition for next year and beyond.”
Super Rugby seems to be all but over as we know it, with South Africa looking to get out as fast as they can. The South Africans signed a five-year broadcast to be part of the Super Rugby competition, but are looking to get out of the agreement. Rugby in South Africa only started over the weekend, with a domestic competition slated for October 10.
“SARU (South Africa Rugby Union) has signalled for some time now they were looking at aligning with the northern hemisphere season,” said NZR chief executive Mark Robinson, responding to the news, saying it was “no surprise.”
“All of the SANZAAR partners had agreed to look at more domestically related competitions in 2020 and 2021. During times like these change is inevitable and we need to be willing to adapt quickly.”
What would be the ideal format for a domestic competition in Australia?
Shute Shield action
With Super Rugby finished and no international rugby yet, it has been club rugby’s time to shine. The Shute Shield has been producing the goods of late. The competition has been providing its fair share of highlights, with a number of teams still in the hunt.
Chasing a finals spot is the Warringah Rats, who currently sit in eighth place on the ladder. Coach Michael Ruthven set his players the task of winning their final four games a few weeks a go, and if they manage another two wins they could be back in the top six in time for finals. Ruthven admits they will need a bit of luck with other results going their way, but believes his players have the ability, talent and grit to get the job done.
“I said we need to win four games with a bonus point. The rest is a bit beyond our control,’’ Ruthven said after last weekend’s 50-15 victory over the Wildfires.
“We are two from two now in that regards with Eastwood and Norths, two really hard games ahead. But the team has confidence. The team at no stage ever lost their belief.”
Along side them in the chasing pack is Eastwood, who they will do battle with at TG Milner Field this Saturday.
“You have to be bolshie,’’ Ruthven said.
“You have to go in confident. We are a good football side and if we prepare well and are in a good head space we are as good a chance as any.
“Every week is a grand final for us.
“If we get there it will be good to know we have these tough games behind us and some good momentum.’’’
The Western Force have signed Irish international Rob Kearney to a one-year deal.
The 34-year-old fullback made 95 appearances for Ireland, and joins from Pro14 champions Leinster Rugby.
Kearney has been a mainstay in the Ireland team, and his trophy cabinet includes two Grand Slams (2009 and 2018) and four Six Nations triumphs (2009, 2014, 2015 and 2018), and he has been involved in three of their World Cup campaigns.
At club level, Kearney has won six PRO14 titles, four European Champions Cups and a European Challenge Cup since debuting back in 2005.
“I am delighted to be joining the Western Force for their upcoming season and excited to play with such an ambitious club who are looking to improve on this year’s campaign,” Kearney said.
“I hope to add value both on and off the field that complements the high ambition of the club.
“I’m particularly excited to immerse myself in a new performance environment and to play both with and against some of the best players and teams in the southern hemisphere.”
Kearney joins Wallabies duo Tevita Kuridrani and Tom Robertson as new signings for the club.
The Force have also re-signed Kieran Longbottom, Ian Prior, Brynard Stander, Kyle Godwin, and Marcel Brache on new deals.
The South African Rugby Union has confirmed it will pull teams out of Super Rugby in favour of playing in Europe’s PRO14 league.
The decision was announced after SARU’s provincial unions voted to defect, and the teams could head north as early as next year if an agreement is reached with PRO Rugby Championship, which runs the PRO14.
It would mean that the Bulls, Stormers, Sharks and Lions would replace the Kings and Cheetahs in the competition and would go up against clubs from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy.
While they have suggested that this will only be for the 2021 season, it would be safe to presume that they want this move to be permanent. The world champion Springboks expect to have their cake and eat it too, confirming their desire to still play Tests against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina in the Rugby Championship.
It has been inferred from the statement realesed by the SARU that they are pointing the finger at New Zealand for the sudden break-up of the southern hemisphere competition.
“Our members are excited about the prospect of closer alignment with PRO Rugby Championship and seeking a northern hemisphere future, but we would not have been taking this decision but for actions elsewhere,” SARU chief executive Jurie Roux said.
“We will advise our SANZAAR partners of the general meeting’s decision.”
Of course, its not hard to read between the lines, and South Africa have been looking to leave its southern hemisphere partnership and play in European competitions, given the similar time zone and more money on offer.